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E-news Online July 2012

URISE Program Looks to Recruit Students for Graduate Engineering Programs

By Rebekah Bremer

The School of Engineering and Applied Science is sponsoring a summer program that introduces undergraduate students to the world of graduate study. The Undergraduate Research Internship in Systems Engineering (URISE) takes a small group of rising fourth-year students who attend schools outside of U.Va. and allows them to see what being a graduate student is like at the University of Virginia.

“The intent is to bring in students who are rising fourth-years and give them first-hand exposure to research, and we hope the experience will help them develop an interest in research. They come on Grounds, they work with a faculty member over the summer and they work on a specific eight-week engineering effort,” said Gregory Gerling, associate professor in the Department of Systems and Engineering, who serves as leader of the program.

Opportunity to do research is the key to the program. Many students are not exposed to research during their undergraduate careers and therefore haven’t had opportunities to see if it is something they might enjoy doing.

“It is not always easy to find American students who want to go into graduate school, even when it is paid for. I think part of the reason is that they are exposed to courses as undergraduates but not to research labs,” said Gerling. “Undergraduates don’t realize that there’s this second world outside of their classes in which they could be involved and where they could thrive.”

Graduate student Stephen Adams (SIE) echoed that sentiment.

“I came to U.Va. not really knowing much about research and I just tried to figure that out. If students can find interesting research projects while they are undergraduates, it will give them a leg up in industry and with graduate school in general,” he said.

URISE is also trying to increase the number of minority students who pursue a graduate education in engineering. When URISE started two years ago, it partnered with another, larger program between the University and the National Science Foundation. That program was headed by U.Va. Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity Dr. Marcus Martin. Two of the students involved in this year’s URISE class are part of his program.

“Most of our URISE students are either a member of a minority or a woman, which in engineering is often a minority. We have a sort of dual purpose of encouraging underrepresented populations, giving them exposure to research, getting them excited about research — and in the end, we hope they will consider graduate school here at U.Va.,” said Gerling.

Along with doing research, the students also attend seminars. The first of those was held June 29 in Rice Hall. A panel of systems and information engineering (SIE) graduate students gave a presentation to the URISE students on what graduate school at U.Va. is like. Topics covered included the difference between the Master’s and Ph.D. programs, coursework, research areas, how to choose an adviser, funding, workload, and the always popular topic of social life. URISE students were assured that despite the high academic expectations of graduate school, they would still have a thriving social life.

“I think this program gives students a good opportunity to do research in their undergrad career, which is something I did not have a chance to do when I was an undergraduate,” SIE grad student and panel member Barbara Luckett said of the URISE program. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people who might not otherwise be exposed to research to be able to come to a different university and meet different professors and be aware of what graduate school is like there.”

Ariel Mitchell, a rising fourth-year at Virginia Commonwealth University, attended the panel as a current URISE student. She is working with Associate Professor James Lambert to digitize and secure patient information, which would make it possible for information to be in one place and readily available to doctors, in the event of injury or illness.

Mitchell, who is considering pursuing a career in research, said she hopes URISE will allow her to explore areas of possible interest. “I’m here to find out more about what I’m interested in, because I’m not sure what I want to do,” she said.

Other members of the program are assisting in diabetes research, researching ways to train a doctor to replace a dislocated hip, and tracking sensors on the body.

Students this summer come from universities across the country, including Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, University of Florida, Virginia Commonwealth University, Bennett College and University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

Gerling hopes to expand the program and gain sustainable funding as they look toward the program’s third year. The URISE cost per student is $5,000, which includes housing, a research stipend, meals and travel costs.

“We hope the students will choose to return to U.Va. in the future after their experiences this summer,” said Gerling.

To learn more about the program visit